Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Inherent Vice - Official Trailer [HD]

Okay, it's official . . . Joaquin Phoenix is definitely the guy to play Richard Meltzer in any and all movies based on that great writer's life and times.  Every scene here, I look at Joaquin and I see Richard. 

And, in a parallel universe, "Inherent Vice" is a great book, my approval rating is high and my recommendation is without reservation.  Funny, funny shit, atmospheric, a vigorous invocation of the Zeitgeist of the turn of the Seventies, an intellectual challenge, and eminently readable.   I can't swear by the movie, yet, but I'll swear by the novel.  It's a great read.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marshall Crenshaw - Someday Someway - 1982 Letterman

A Facebook friend of mine just included this clip in a comment and wow, it's a beauty. 

All the way live too, I'd say. 

I discovered this guy in the late '80's, and he helped me to get over the bad habit of under-valuing chording and comping as aspects of guitar playing.  I mean, melody is nice, the whole "lead guitar" thing, but songs have structure, and it has to come from somewhere. 

Marshall is still great.  Check him out!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Shout Out To The Stars

It is possible that right now, as we speak, some strange intelligence beyond time and space is monitoring our Internet.  If so, their capabilities are obviously strong enough to allow them to read every single word, every day.  So, they would be reading this blog post, right now . . .

Here's my greeting to those intrepid readers, those fabulous explorers of the radiological universe.  Greetings! Galactic Brothers!  Thanks for reading!  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!  In dreams, if you have to! I love you! 

Yeah, that could happen too. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Questionable Tactics In Boxing

What I mean are dirty tactics, behaviors that may gain a boxer a reputation as a dirty fighter. 

There was a boxer in the 1980’s that I really liked.  Outside the ring he was a cheerful, personable man with a great backstory; inside the ring he was a terror.  One boxing site states with refreshing candor that he was known to “use his fists and elbows in novel ways.”  He did more than that.  He was a walking catalog of illegal boxing moves.  He was famous for it.  Every fight of his was a clinic in bad behavior, but it never seemed to affect his popularity or his statistics.  He won ninety percent of his fifty or so fights.  It begs the question:  Are the dirty tactics just part of boxing? 

Here are some examples of dirty tactics:

1. Laces:  boxing gloves are tied tight with laces on the inside of the boxer’s wrists.  These laces can be formidable weapons when rubbed against the eye of the opponent. 

2. Head Butting:  The human forehead is the hardest part of the body except for the teeth.  Using it to strike the opponent is often a game-changer.

3. Elbows:  some fighters master the art of throwing “accidental” elbows.  The punch misses, but the glove continues its forward progress until the elbow strikes the opponent in the head.  If the elbow misses too, there is often an opportunity to use the elbow on the back-stroke.  This is what in Chinese boxing (Kung Fu) is known as “the continuing and returning fist.” 

4. Thumbs:  boxing gloves, for some unknown reason, have thumbs in them.  These can be driven into the opponents eyes. 

5. The Ropes:  The ropes around the ring are elastic, like giant rubber bands.  Like rubber bands, they can be used for a sling-shot effect.  A clever boxer who has his opponent on the ropes may push the opponent back into the ropes and then punch him as the ropes propel him into the punch.  This is a real force multiplier.  Similarly, a boxer with his own back to the ropes may lean back into the ropes and then use the spring effect to add power to his own punch. 

6. Holding:  Many times a boxer is dead sure that if he lets the opponent hit him the results will be catastrophic.  Such a boxer might seek to keep the opponents hands tied up in tight clinches for most of the fight.  The frustrated puncher will seek franticly to free himself from such clutches, and an ingenious practitioner has a thousand ways to trap an arm as fast as it escapes his grip.  This can be exhausting for the man so tied up.  It can be exhausting to watch too. 

7. Kidneys:  kidney punches are illegal and dangerous.  That doesn’t mean it never happens.  Especially when the referee is standing where the behavior will be hidden from him. 

8. The Bell:  the rules state that a punch may not land after the bell has sounded.  You will often see boxers stopping punches short upon hearing the bell.  You will also frequently see punches that were launched arguably before the bell be allowed to complete their parabola and strike the opponent.  Sometimes you will even see punches planned and executed after the bell.  If you watch enough fights, you’ll see everything.

9. Below the Belt:  another game changer, like the head butts.

The referee may deduct a point for any of the above infractions, but that doesn’t seem to happen much.  There is a real problem with intent in the boxing ring.  How do we separate cause-and-effect from coincidence?  Accidents happen.  Things happen fast in the ring.  All kinds of things, funny things.  Where’s the mens rea?  The criminal intent?  The guilty mind?  If the ref thinks that it was an accident, he’ll just give the affected boxer a minute to shake it off. 

Boxers know this, and many of them exploit this weakness in the oversight. 

“. . . if I throw a right hand, in good faith, and you pull your head back, and my thumb happens to stick you in the eye, whose fault is that?”

“. . . if I bounce off the ropes with a good angle to throw a punch, should I refrain?”

“. . . if we are in a clinch, and the referee allows us to continue boxing, must I keep my head stationary?  Or may I continue to bob and weave, trying only to avoid your punches, of course.  And if my forehead should accidentally strike you on the eye brow, opening a nasty cut, whose fault is that?” 

I have a hunch that the judgment of these things has a lot to do with the popularity of the fighter.  It must be like life in general, mustn’t it?  If they love you, you’ll get away with anything; if they hate you, you’ll get points deducted for any little thing. 

Maybe it all falls under the heading of misadventure.   Maybe it’s like driving too fast in the canyons of Malibu.  You knew there was an element of danger, but you went and did it anyway.  If you take your car over the side, well, you knew that you were taking a chance of that happening.   

And this stuff does, without a doubt, liven up a boxing match.  That fellow from the ‘80’s, man, watching him fight was a real hoot.   

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Marshall Crenshaw Our Town (HQ)

This has been up on YouTube for three years and it's only had 8,481 hits.  That's criminal.

And no, I didn't only like him just because he looks kind of like me.  (Remember, the picture is from the early 80's, when I was thirty-something, and still had hair, and Marshall was only a few years younger.)  He's a great singer, a great songwriter, and a great guitar player.  That is what they call in hockey a "Hat Trick." 

I went so far as to share this to Facebook, with a reverse-psychology blurb to throw people off the scent.  No one listens to music shared on Facebook.  Sometimes I feel like the testifyingest fool in the Valley of the Damned, but if I could strap all of my Facebook friends down and make them listen to five or six cuts by this guy, I'd risk jail to do it. 

You, dear reader, are part of a more sophisticated group, I'm sure.  You, I am confident, are much more likely to actually listen to this cut.  Thank you, as always, for every minute that you generously squander on my bullshit obsessions. 

Jeff Beck - Surf's Up [Live - 2-11-05]

Reverent, subtle and beautifully musical.  How weird is that for a guy that we valued back in the day for being a musical anarchist and iconoclast who was famous for making a guitar sound like it had just been poked in the fucking eye? 

This career has been a long and winding road.  I loved Jeff's playing on first hearing, and I have always loved it, over the years.  You could say that we grew up together.

Three-fourths deaf by this time, he was still hearing it better than anybody.  Jeff, we love you, no ifs, ands or buts.  Thanks for everything.

Friday, September 19, 2014

THE CLEFTONES Heart and Soul [original]

I loved this music in the '50's, and I thank God for it on a regular basis.  Not only was it great music, but it also taught my generation a great lesson, without intending to and apparently effortlessly. 

Groups like this gave us the idea that black Americans were just like us.  To us, including boys that were not generally fans of racial equality, these groups were talented and entirely admirable.  Groups like the Del Vikings, groups that included black and white singers, showed us that we could all get along.  My favorite sports team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, was part of the lesson.  It was all very subversive, wasn't it?  Racial harmony was possible!  Amazing. 

Maybe someday we'll even get there.  It's more of a slog than I would have guessed.  From the evidence these days, I don't think that I'll see in my lifetime.  My granddaughter, maybe.

My Polo Grounds Adventure

Story to follow.  In the meantime, consider the dimensions of this outfield.  Human men played baseball here for many decades.  (Hint:  Hercules with an aluminum bat would have trouble hitting a home run to straightaway center in this place.) 

Here's the story:

Until 1957 there were three major league baseball teams in New York.  The Yankees, the Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.  My dad was kind enough to take me to see games at Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds before those teams sailed off to sunny California.  Therein lies a tale of how the world has changed since the ‘50’s. 

Ebbets Field, home of the Dodgers, was unremarkable in its dimensions.  It was a baseball field, built and used only for baseball.  It had a short right field line, and a deep center field, but those things were very common in those old baseball stadiums.  There was nothing common about the shape of the field at the Polo Grounds. 

The dimensions at the Polo Grounds were:

Left Field Line: 279  (Ebbets Field: 348)
Left-Center Field:  450 (351)
Center Field:  483 (484)
Right-Center Field:  449 (344)
Right Field Line:  258 (297)

Go over and look at some Google images of the Polo Grounds, it’s amazing.  Those power alleys go on forever.  There’s enough space on the field to play any sport known to man.  It looks like you could put a golf course out there.   Maybe the Giants knew that they’d be losing Willie Mays soon, and who else could cover all of that ground?  Maybe they figured, let’s move now and we never have to find out. 

Those were different times, and not just in baseball. 

Now we read frequently about parents getting in trouble for falling short of the standard of care regarding their children.  Last year a woman got dinged for allowing her nine year old son to go a nearby park on his own.  It wasn’t always like that. 

My boyhood, in the ‘50’s, was spent largely outside of parental supervision after the age of four or five.  They even trusted us to travel to places alone, sometimes places far away. 

For the trip to Ebbets Field, my dad got tickets for a Saturday game and we went together.  For the game at the Polo Grounds, though, we had tickets for a weekday.  My dad worked in downtown Manhattan, and he just gave me my ticket and directions to the Polo Grounds.  He was going straight up from work; I was to meet him at our seats.  This was a considerable trip from our house in Queens.  A bus, and one, two, three subway lines.  I had to change trains twice and then find the stadium.  I was nine years old, and I’d never done anything like that before. 

Changing trains the first time went fine, but I screwed up the second change.  The last train was the “A” train, I’m pretty sure, and I found the “A” train okay but I took it going in the wrong direction.  Before long I was in Brooklyn, on my way to Coney Island or something, and I was starting to get suspicious.  I got off the train.  As I was wondering whether I should ask somebody I noticed a trio of sailors, in their whites, talking to a cop.  I sidled up to them and sure enough, I overheard the cop telling them how to get to the Polo Grounds.  They had made the same mistake that I had.  Slick as James Bond I quietly followed them, and I got there fine.  Finding the stadium was easy, I mean it’s as big as Dallas.  Finding the seat was no problem. 

My father asked me how I’d made out with the trip, and I told him the story.  He thought it was all great, with the self-correction and all. 

These days, if that happened, and if I had asked the cop for directions, my father and mother would be in big trouble and I’d end up in foster care.  But parents used to pose these confidence building tests for us all the time back then.  In an extreme example, Orson Wells’ parents sent him to Europe by himself on an ocean liner when he was ten.  If I recall, they handed him a wad of cash and some luggage and told him to come back when the money ran out.  He made out fine too.* 

So now a nine-year-old can’t go to the park by himself?  No wonder kids today seem to take forever to grow up, if they bother to grow up at all.   

*Did that really happen?  I seem to remember him telling the story on a talk show one time. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Book Of Cletis

I miss the blog called "The Book of Cletis," ostensibly written by one Cletis L. Stump.  Clete was a nice guy, a good writer, and I always enjoyed the blog.  It went private somehow.  It's a Blogspot.com blog but when you run it up the flagpole these days you get a page that says:

"This blog is for invited readers only.  Contact the blogger."

Or something to that effect.

The change happened around the Spring of 2012.  I still miss Cletis, we were getting along swimmingly.  There's a certain amount of logrolling here in the Blogosphere, bloggers plugging one another.  Maybe some of it is insincere, like the ridiculous praise that mediocre novelists heap on one another these days, I wouldn't know.  I can tell you that if I suggested a post on The Book of Cletis it was because I thought that it was great.  Cletis would occasionally re-post one of my things on his blog, and on other occasions he'd comment hereon.  He seemed sincere about it too.  Then he pulled the plug and I wasn't invited to the new party. 

So, a couple of questions:

I would have appreciated an invitation to read the new, or merely closed off blog; and

Did something go wrong while I wasn't looking?  Was it something that I said? 

Maybe we start these Internet relationships without really understanding the rules for such things.  They are new constructs, that's for sure.  This is a new world.  Maybe I committed some faux pas.  If I did, I'd apologize for it unreservedly. 

I wonder.

But whatever.  Cletis, wherever you are, I love you brother, and I hope that you and yours are well and happy.  Live long and prosper!  And thanks for all of the good will, back then. 

Three Deaths, Part Three

Norman Petri, 1990

It is a well-worn cliché to refer to any human being as “unique.”  For one thing, it is almost never true.  Considering these three deaths, you might say that Hilliary was an unusual boy in some ways, but really there are many surly, slightly anti-social boys, and many of them are quite sarcastic and entertaining, and many of those have strong interests in building motors and going fast.  Unique?  No. The type is personified by James Dean.  And Ray, certainly he had unusual powers of social interaction, he was charismatic, and he had considerable musical talent.  Unique?  No.  Paul McCartney is the model.  But Norman?  Norman was unique.  I seriously doubt that the world had seen his precise likeness before, or that it will ever see it again. 

I met Norman around the turn of the year 1976, shortly after my relocation to Los Angeles.  Norman was a transplant too, from Cleveland.  We were in our mid-Twenties.  We hit it off immediately, for reasons that would not be immediately apparent to anyone. 

We worked in the warehouse distribution center for a chain of record and tape stores.  Norman lived with a friend in a rented house surrounded by factories that had only day shifts.  They thought that it was perfect, because there were no neighbors to complain about noise.  Live music and loud record playing were involved.  In the living room there were three armadillos.  One taxidermy stand-alone armadillo; one taxidermy armadillo fighting a taxidermy rattle snake; and one armadillo handbag.  Every Thursday they would buy the Recycler and look for new armadillo items.  The entire house was furnished with gaudy, overstuffed second-hand furniture.  There was a blow-torch on the coffee table.  The rooms were hung with posters from Fifties science-fiction movies, of which both of them had extensive collections.  I say extensive, the roommate’s collection was complete.  For all of the important movies he had the poster, both one-sheets, and all of the lobby cards.  His want list included only better examples of things of which he already had a less-than-perfect example.  Norman’s collection included many foreign posters.  Like the Italian poster for “This Island Earth,” or the French one-sheets for “Forbidden Planet.” 

Between them they had four or five thousand record albums, mostly punk and trance but with a rich vein of movie soundtracks.  Henry Mancini and Enio Moriconni were big favorites.  Oh, etc, etc . . . is this to be all about Norman’s life? 

Maybe a little more information.  After a couple of years, Norman moved back to Cleveland, because Los Angeles was just too square for him.  Cleveland had a great rock scene in the 1970’s.  It is also important to know that Norman was a devotee of old style amusement parks and wooden roller coasters.  In Cleveland, he worked two jobs for nine months out of the year so that he could take off during “coaster season,” traveling around to visit all of the happening wooden coasters.  He and I were both letter writers.  He was the most conscientious letter writer that I’ve ever known, he actually had a checklist of people that he wanted to write to every month.  Usually I received not just a letter, but a brown envelope with brochures from amusement parks, plastic bags from hip record stores, napkins from weird diners, a bit of everything.   

And I should mention that Norman was a Fat Fancier.  He himself stood over six feet tall and weighed a bit less than 130 pounds, he looked like you could fold him up and fit him into an attaché case.  He was bone white, with longish black hair, and with a demeanor that the medical professionals call “low affect.”  His long term girlfriend weighed in at over 500 pounds.  Oh, and Norman was a smoker, that will become important in a moment.  He smoked one or two packs of Marlboros every day and at least an ounce of reefer every week.  He had kept up this pace since his teens. 

Is it possible to die suddenly from lung cancer?  Norman managed it.  He was a very shy man, and always less than comfortable in the real world.  With friends, listening to records, getting loaded, he was very personable and almost cheerful.  But let the social situation become at all new or uncertain and he went into full retreat.  So it’s not unexpected that he hated to go to the doctor, preferring to ride out all of life’s maladies on his own.  This may or may not have been his downfall. 

I got the opportunity to visit him in 1990, after a two year close friendship followed by a twelve year intense correspondence.  My family and I were to fly to Toronto and make three visits within two weeks; to friends in Guelph, Ontario; to my aunt in Buffalo, New York; and to Norman, who lived at the time in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Our correspondence was still strong, and he had never mentioned health problems, but when I called him to tell him of the trip he blurted out that he was too sick to take visitors.  He said that he had terrible sciatica, that he had had it once before, but that this time it was really laying him up, he couldn’t do anything.  I said, no sweat, we’ll sit around, get some take out, we just want to see you.  He allowed that something like that could work.  It was the last time that we spoke.

Two days before we left for the trip, Norman’s girlfriend called me.  “Norman’s dead!” she screamed into the phone without warning, with the full power of her tremendous bulk.  She explained, in between huge sobs, that Norman had finally gone to the doctor, had been diagnosed with lung cancer, had been admitted to the hospital immediately, and had thereupon died.  He was thirty-seven-years-old. 

I’ve had other friends and relatives die on me, but these unanticipated deaths really do hit a little harder, don’t they?  It comes as a shock, and with the finality of the grave.  They stand out in memory, probably because they remind us that any day could be our last, or thereabouts. 

So fare thee well, Hilliary, Ray and Norman.  I miss you all, if not exactly every day, certainly on a very regular basis.  Thank you for your friendship.  May your souls, and the souls of all of the faithful departed, rest in peace, amen.  

Little Willie John - All Around The World

Another man of small stature blessed with a huge singing voice.

1955! Willie John only lasted a few years after this.  Went to prison; got killed.  Man, some of these life stories are enough to drive one to drink.  

My Many Interests

I spent most of my life waiting to be seized by a passion for something.  Seized momentarily, as though it were just around the corner, waiting for me.  It never happened, and eventually the sense of expectation left me.  It was replaced by the vague, melancholy feeling that I would have to settle for a real interest in many things, without any deep interests at all.  I will admit that I was somewhat disappointed. 

Now I will admit that there are benefits to this generality of interest, and that maybe I was lucky.

Sometimes I wonder if I should wish that I were more scholarly.  But really, what would that accomplish?  Probably I am better off with my essentially lazy nature and my fondness for periods of inactivity.  I find naps more pleasant than the study of German verbs.  Is that so terrible?  No, actually, naps are quite nice. 

Not that I don’t love German verbs.  “Sie dienen nur genug Geld, um weiter arbeiten zu koennen.”  How great is that?  It’s from a short story by Heinrich Boell.  “They earn only enough money to enable them to continue working.”  As I said, I have real interests in many things.  A ridiculously broad spectrum of things, you might say.  And that’s a good thing.

I can tell you with a straight face that I have never been bored.  Never.  Technically I know what the word means, but I’m not certain what it would feel like. 

So being the jack of all trades, but master of none, has its silver linings.  Recall that in those “once upon a time” European folk tales it was very often a character named “Simpleton” who got the prize at the end of the story.  The prince that came out ahead was the one that had no particular skills and wasted all of his time fooling around while his princely brothers were out mastering hunting or soldiering.  The friendly, non-threatening nonentity won the king’s favor in the end. 

Perhaps that’s me.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cornelius - Count five or six

What's Cornelius up to these days?  I should check. 

The gig name "Cornelius" is part of a cautionary tale that I've gone into before on this blog.  It is now of critical importance to work under a searchable name, a name that when googled will lead searchers to you, and not a thousand superfluous, unrelated things.  Never name your band "Dinosaur," or "Broad Band." 

"Cornelius" is slightly better than those two examples, but it still yields a lot of stuff that is not the great man himself.  And he is great, I say that with confidence.  If he does something that I don't adequately understand, and he does, I hurry to take full blame for what is obviously my own failure.  Cornelius, as I have said, is the Hieronymous Bosch of rock. 

Thank You, Xolodremont.ru, I Think

If I am reading my stats right, Xolodremont.ru is driving a lot of traffic to my blog.  They occupy the number one position for both URL's and sites as sources of traffic.  Maybe I should thank them.

I say "maybe," because Xolodremont seems to be a Russian site that acts as a clearing house for authorized repair services for small appliances.  Like coffee makers, washing machines, things like that.  Most of the site is only in Russian, but there are clues.  There is no word search feature; you chose a service by clicking on the icon of a manufacturer.  I was sure that it was some kind of Russian Yahoo but no. 

So this is very strange, and if anyone could help me out here I'd really appreciate it. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Three Deaths, Part Two

Flippy, 1971

Raymond Boestfleisch was a twin.  He and his brother Ronald were as different as night and day.  Ronnie was a sober, studious young man, an educational high-achiever who earned advanced degrees in science.  Ronnie was also very shy.  He was a nice guy, and a fine chess player, I was his victim on several occasions, but he was very quiet and shy.  Ray and Ronnie were both nice guys, but Ray was none of those other things.  Not even close.  Ray was the opposite of those things.   

Ray “Flippy” Boestfleisch was one of the most sociable fellows that I’ve ever known.  He was a social genius.  He knew everyone, and everyone knew him.  He always seemed to be happy.  He was always glad to see you, whoever you were.   He never had a bad word to say about anyone, almost never.  On the rare occasions when he would let go a negative comment about someone he winced like he couldn’t believe a person could behave in such a manner.  Didn’t people know that life was better if you were happy all the time and loved everybody?  Maybe Ray was a proto-hippie. 

I think Ray had been given the name Flippy by a teacher in grammar school or junior high school.  That might have happened.  Somehow it was school related.  Maybe a teacher kept telling him to stop being flippant, and the kids took up the chant, “Flippy!  Flippy!”  Something like that.  He didn’t get the idea on his own.  

I had known Ray, or Flippy as he was universally called, or Flip, since we were twelve, but I didn’t get to know him well until we were sixteen.   We lived in College Point, a smallish, working class town on the East River just past La Guardia Airport on the North Shore of Queens.  There were a lot of dances during the Sixties, thrown by various churches and schools.  There being a demand, some of the guys put bands together, cover bands, and Ray was the bass player in a good one.  At one particular dance, during a break, Ray took the mike and announced that he and some of his “Rolling Stone friends” were going to play a few Rolling Stone songs.  The rest of the band let the "friends" use their instruments.  The drummer among the friends had been an early friend of mine, I’d met him when we were four years old (we’re still friends now, at sixty-six).  Well I was completely under the spell of the ‘Stones at the time, so I was interested.  They ran through a few tunes from the first couple of Rolling Stones albums, and they did a pretty good job too.  We all got to talking and over the next few years we all became close friends.  I’m still in touch with all of them, all except Flip that is.  Events overtook Flip before too long. 

Did I say that Flippy was sociable?  Here’s one of those stories that you could not write into a fictional narrative because it would be too unbelievable.  In 1967 I was at Navy Boot Camp, marching my ass off and learning knots and whatnot.  They showed us a movie one night, we were sitting in an enormous enclosed space of some kind, over a thousand of us probably.  I overheard a guy a few rows back bragging that he knew the coolest kid in New York City, and he was doing it in my own working class New York accent.  He talked about the cool friend, how great he was, and it all started to sound familiar.  I yelled a greeting back to him and asked him if he went to Flushing High School.  “Yeah!” he said, “you too?”  “No,” I said, “but I know Flippy.” 

I got out of the Navy in early 1968, and I can tell you, that was a year the likes of which we’ll never see again.  It was one nightmare after another, out in the real world.  Flippy and I were unemployed for most of the year, and we did a lot of hanging out.  His parents both worked, and we’d sit around their house, drinking, smoking if we had it, listening to records.  In the bunker, you know, waiting for the evening when the other guys got home from work.  I had a girlfriend, she was busy at school.  I was, perhaps, escaping from reality, but Flip, I think that he had just chosen not to engage with reality in the first place.  There was quite a bit of that going around at the time.  The only thing that Ray was serious about was music. 

Getting high was a favorite pastime in College Point.  Some guys preferred the head stuff, weed, acid, a couple of beers, maybe some speed.  Some guys preferred the body stuff, barbiturates, pain killers, cough medicine, scotch by the water glass, heroin.  Some guys loved everything.  Guess which category Flip fell into? 

When Flippy started smoking weed, he smoked it all day, everyday, and into the night.  It gave him the munchies and he put on a lot of weight.  When he discovered amphetamines, he took them every day.  He had weight to lose, and over the course of a year he lost about sixty pounds.  When he discovered barbiturates, he took them every day instead.  Those downs are some very bad drugs.  They create immediate tolerance, which rapidly builds to huge tolerance, and it’s a very demanding physical addiction.   Before long the devotee needs to take a one or two dozen pills a day just to get straight.  For a while there he was still in bands and hanging out with the rest of us, but he was mostly passed out and we had to check his breathing every now and then.   He became unreliable for band work, and he started to hang out only with other unconscious young men.  This went on for a year or two, and we didn’t see much of him during that time.  

I got married, got an apartment, had a son, got a job carrying the mail, life went on.  In 1971 we got wind that Flip had returned to the land of the living.  He and I were twenty-two at the time.  Word was that he’d cleaned himself up and gotten a new girlfriend and a job.  A couple of the guys ran into him around town, and it seemed to them that he was back to his old self.  He was a little sheepish about his addiction, but he was enthusiastic about the girlfriend and the job.  There was talk about getting back together, so to speak, hanging out, maybe get a jam going.  We were all still getting loaded, just not on an industrial scale.  I heard Ozzie Osborne say one time, about rehab, I thought they were going to teach me to get loaded responsibly.  Many of us knew how to do that.  

One night I had a nightmare about a fire, and when the alarm woke me up I could smell smoke.  This was about four a.m., you know those post office jobs.   At about 4:30 I was walking to the bus.  As soon as I cleared the first corner I could see the rotating red lights of fire trucks bouncing around a factory building.  When I got to the trucks, I could see that the burned up building was the one where Flippy lived.  I approached the firemen, and they were friendly about my inquires.  Me in my mailman’s uniform, just a bunch of civil servants after all.  “Was anybody hurt?” I asked.  “Just one guy.”  “How bad,” I was pretty tense by now.  The fireman shrugged his shoulders.  “He died,” he told me.

I don’t remember if I even asked the name, I know they can’t give that out.  I went along to work and set up the mail for a route.  Before I left the office to deliver it I called my wife.   Yes, she could tell me by then, the dead guy was Flippy.  Somebody had called his family to find out, and word had gotten around.

The day, already strange, starting with the fire-dream, soon took a borderline-horrible, Steven King kind of turn.

I went out to deliver the route.  I was a floater, a “sub,” so I did a different route every day.  This one was in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens, and it was a long one, with big stoops, this was no bunny (our term for an easy route).  At the top of one tall stoop, twenty steps or something, what the fuck were they thinking,  I turned around after filling the mail box and I froze in mid-movement at who I saw walking down the street.  It was “the Lady in Black.”

This was a famous character that had lived in College Point for many years, and still lived there. That was eight or nine miles away.  She was famous for walking around town dressed in fancy, black mourning clothes, lacy dress, veil, nice shoes.  We all called her simply, “the Lady in Black.”  She always had a little smile on her face, and she never, ever spoke to anyone.  She just walked.  We were already a bit frightened by the intensity of her presentation, but seeing her in Richmond Hill, on this day, game me the scare of my life.  I had no idea at all that she sometimes took her walks elsewhere.  I really doubted if I was seeing it, seeing her at all.  I was stunned.  I did not move a muscle until she had walked the half a block past where I was standing and turned the corner.  She never looked at me. 

I didn’t get any details about the fire until the funeral.  Another closed casket funeral.  Flip had lived above a diner in what had been built as a two family house.  I had assumed that he succumbed to the smoke and fumes before the flames reached him, as is usually the case.  That’s a comforting thought to those left behind.  But no.  At the funeral I was told that he had actually gotten out of the building safely along with his roommate.  The roommate informed us that at that point Flip said, “the Vee!” and charged back up the stairs.  He had been working on a switch to guitar, and he had gotten himself a nice Gibson Flying Vee guitar just like the one that Albert King played at the time.  Those are expensive.  He died as he opened the door at the top of the stairs to exit the building for the second time.  The stairwell had, in the meantime, become engulfed in flames.  It was one of those flash/bang moments, he died standing up. 

Upon hearing this story I lost it for a good long while.  It’s the only time in my long life that I’ve broken down at a funeral.  Nobody deserves that. 

I suppose that nobody deserves any of it, but we all get it, don’t we?  In one form or another.  May yours be a peaceful end, gentle reader.  

delta drums foire de paris

A friend of mine posted a picture of these triangular drums on Facebook. The company is called "Delta Drum," apparently a French outfit.  The general consensus was:  what the fuck are they thinking?

Could there be a manufacturing advantage to the triangle thing?  I doubt it.  Do they have a particular sound?  Could be, I suppose, but I don't have the critical faculties to make that judgment.  Does the company just want to separate themselves from the other drum manufacturers?  That could be the answer.

Or maybe they're just being French, in the typically "LOOK AT ME!" French kind of way.  That's probably it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

thelonious monk - don't blame me

I remember the first iPad pitch by Steve Jobs, the one where he says, "you can make it whatever you want . . . it can be anything you want it to be."  Well, no it can't, Steve.  Whatever you do with it, it's still an iPad.

Music really is the dreamy, customizable thing that Steve disingenuously told us that the iPad was.  Music really can be anything that you want it to be.  Thanks are owed to guys like Monk for proving that to us, to our delight.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Joe Dimaggio, Mr. Coffee, And The End Of The World

During the early 1970’s, America was standing on the verge of the end of the world as we had known it.  The 1960’s had been a decade of great turmoil, a mix of social progress and social upheaval, a mix of war and prosperity.  The U.S. tried to simultaneously fight the War on Poverty, and the War in Vietnam, and the rush to get to the moon.  All the while, the stage was being set for the tremendous changes that have followed.  The coming of the end. 

In 1973, TV was saturated with commercials for Mr. Coffee, commercials that featured Joe Dimaggio in the role of product pitchman.  Most people seemed to take this new development in stride, but I knew instinctively that if Joltin’ Joe could do such a thing it meant that every single fucking thing in the world had been altered completely.  The world as we had known it was gone. 

I was too young to see Joe Dimaggio’s baseball career first hand, but you could not escape his importance to the culture of the 50’s and 60’s.  There was the marriage to Marilyn Monroe, for one thing.  My family regularly ate at his up-scale Italian restaurant in Flushing, Queens.  He was a tremendously dignified man, tall, handsome and highly intelligent.  I actually had him in my taxi one time, around the time of the Mr. Coffee ads.  I never mentioned Mr. Coffee, of course.  I drove him from JFK to the Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue.  He was quiet, he just stared out the window for most of the ride.  He did ask me about the weather, but no conversation developed.   I liked Joe, and I respected his dignified solitude, which you could cut with a knife. 

In the years since the early 70’s we have seen the destruction of much of what was good and holy in American life.  The exponential rise in productivity has benefited only the tenth-of-one-percent; the unions have been destroyed and with them most of the working class; we have increasing debt-slavery; the middle class has been demoralized and largely impoverished; probable cause and due process rights have been destroyed; and forget the old fashioned covenant of good faith and fair dealing in business and politics.  The death of everything. 

It didn’t start with Joe and the Mr. Coffee gig.  Joe was just the wakeup call that something had happened while we weren’t looking.  The “wake up and smell the coffee” moment.  Maybe it was not obvious, but I think it was impossible not to become suspicious.  Joe D., the very personification of old school grace and charm, hawking a cheap coffee maker.  What’s wrong with this picture? 

I’d never suggest that the old world was a perfect place, but it did have a lot going for it.  There were progressive tax policies, policies that favored the middle class over moneyed interests.  Civil rights were on the upswing, although still under great stress.  Personal freedoms in the due process area were expanding.  And, as weird as it may sound now, the two major political parties could still work together and compromise when the needs of the country called for it. 

Something had happened at about the time that JFK was murdered, and within ten years it had been cut in stone.  After that the dominoes really started to fall.  Joe Dimaggio and the Mr. Coffee thing were the headlights on the highway.  That was a turning point.  Since then the truck has run all of our sorry asses over.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Art Pepper Imagination Meets The Rhythm Section 1957

I just came across a side-door invitation to rediscover Art Pepper, I don't keep this stuff in my front-term memory.  I like the saxophone, but it's not where I really live. 

This is a great album though, and Art Pepper is really, really good.  I love this song too.  This song by Jimmy Scott is one of my favorites. 

Art's a great story teller too.  In fact, I'd recommend anything with his name on it, animal, vegetable or mineral.  "Art Pepper," the MARK OF QUALITY.  

Three Deaths, Part One

People die.  Some die lingering deaths that can be hard to watch.  Not as hard in the watching as it must be in the experiencing, but hard.  Some die sudden deaths, shocking, unanticipated deaths that leave psychological distortions for months in loved ones left behind.  Some deaths fall somewhere in between.  All deaths are unpleasant in their turn, but ours is the way of death.  It is the way of all flesh, the place we all go.  I have seen my share of death, but three examples stand out in memory.

Hilliary, 1966

Hilliary Carroll and I went to high school together; sometimes I sat behind him in home room.  We were both too-cool-for-school, boys who were smart enough but who were dedicated to making our own ways through the education process with little effort devoted to assigned work.  He was two years older than me as a result of having suffered a long bout of Scarlet Fever in grammar school. 

For me, the revolution consisted of heroic feats of reading books that had nothing at all to do with the curriculum proposed by the school.  And hours listening to records, or walking around town with like-minded friends, doing nothing.  (As in, “where are you going? OUT, what are you doing? NOTHING.” Nothing might have been just standing around making fun of each other, or it might include kicking over every garbage can on the block.)  For Hilliary, it was a question of fascination with small engines, fast vehicles, and danger.  Go carts, mini-bikes, outboard boat engines, motorcycles . . . he only moved on to sports cars after graduation. 

We got along great, thanks to our shared maladaptation to the greater society, our general disinterest in the things that society valued.  Getting to Hilliary’s house was not easy, but I spent a lot of time there during the high school years.  It was a long ride on two buses, or a really challenging ride on a bicycle.  I don’t recall Hilliary ever coming to my house.  What was the point?  All of the engines, the mini-bikes, not to mention the pellet pistols, were at his house.  I knew a lot of the guys in his neighborhood, and there was a big, beautiful park there, so it was not a hardship.  Also, his family was much nicer than mine, except for my sister.  His mom was a loving woman and quite the intellectual, very funny, and his father was a writer for the New York Herald Tribune. 

After high school, I never saw Hilliary again.  The last time that I saw him, I made the trip to his house, not a daily but a frequent occurrence.  He was in a bad mood.  He was trying to make some time with a girl who lived across the street.  He said uncharitable things about me hanging around stepping on his time, things that were probably justified.  I went home, and I never saw him again.  It happened quickly.

Within a month of graduating high school I had a new girlfriend, and I was spending a certain amount of time at her house.  I already had many friends in her neighborhood.  Her father worked at a big defense plant in town.  He got home from work at about four-thirty, and we’d be sitting there, me, my girlfriend and her sisters, watching “Dark Shadows” or something.  One day her dad walked in, and he was in a somber mood.  “One of the guys,” he said, “his brother died.  Car crash.”

Now I knew that Hilliary’s older brother worked at the place.  He was a diver, SCUBA and deep sea.  So, on a long shot, I asked her dad, “what’s your friend’s name?”  He gives me that look, like what difference does that make?  “Mike Carroll,” he says.

That’s how I found out about it.  I called the house and talked to Hilliary’s mother, she was putting up a brave front.  Hilliary had gotten himself an Austin-Healey sports car after graduation.  It was early in the spring of the next year.  On the night that he died, Hilliary was driving the Healey ridiculously fast through a particularly dangerous piece of road close to his house.  A piece of road where a car going too fast will become airborne and then bounce.  This happens while the road is going into a sharp turn, which can be fun or fatal, depending on the luck of the draw.  I'll bet that he had done it before, successfully.  A friend was in the car with him that night.  The friend was lucky enough to be thrown from the vehicle.  “Left-handed luck” that, but he lived and he looked pretty intact at the funeral.  Hilliary was behind the wheel when the car spun into a light pole.  He was killed instantly, and smashed up in the process.  It was a closed casket funeral.
The funeral was a quiet affair.  Hilliary was buried up in Connecticut; I’ve never seen the grave.  His mom carried on nicely, but his dad took it very, very hard.  He never recovered, in fact.  He never went to work, not one day, after the death.  I don’t think he ever ate at all after the funeral.  He just sat in a chair in the dark until he died; it took less than ten days. 

I took it better than that.  Not quite in stride, but to me it wasn’t totally unexpected.  Hilliary was too fond of speed and danger.  Those guys often die young. 

(To be continued.) 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

James Ray- St James Infirmary

James Ray is criminally underrated.  Short, short career, that might have something to do with it.  No hits on which to anchor the career either, unless you count, "I Got My Mind Set on You," later covered by George Harrison. 

What a voice.  I love this guy.  Died young, that's the story.  RIP brother.

Whom Should We Thank For The Existence Of Modern Britain?

There's a show on BBC  Knowledge that suggests that it was exploration and innovation that made "Britain" what it is today.  Oh, really?

The exploration did lead to the Empire, and the innovation did lead to the Industrial Revolution, but a couple of things had to happen beforehand to enable the exploration and innovation bits.  Most notably the wonderfully useful English language.  Taking it further begs the question:  where did the language come from?  Almost none of it came from the inhabitants of the British Isles themselves.  It came from outside.  The language, and any subsequent successes by the nation state of England (or, Great Britain), were the direct result of repeated, long-term conquests and occupations.

First came the Celts.  The Romans were there for several hundred years, bringing with them the beginnings of modern English.  The Angles and the Saxons brought their already Latin influenced German, and they stayed, taking "English" to a very German stage of development.  The (Norman) French came to stay in 1066,  and between that time and Shakespeare's time modern English was born, developed and perfected.  I'm not qualified to speak about the linguistic contributions of the Celts, or the less occupation minded Vikings for that matter, but without the building blocks of Latin, German and French, there would be no English language as we know it.

The English are a very interesting people, and not without their successes.  I find them to be a first class movie-making people, and very literary in general (often too literary for my taste, but that's just me).  In a just world, they should have a big holiday, like a four day weekend or something, to celebrate the various streams that came together to form the English language.  Costumes of the conquerors should be worn, and great thanks should be given for all of their bloody efforts.  And a moment of silence for all of the people that had to die so that the English language could live.  Haven't the English sufficiently lost their pride by now to allow for a holiday like this?  You'd think that they should have.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Interview With The Author

This is a fantasy ego projection of an interview that might take place in a possible future where I have actually finished this novel that I have sitting around here half-done.   “Forest Park” is the current working title.  Repeat, snark alert!  This hasn't happened yet. 

Q:  Let’s start with the obvious question:  how is it that you are publishing your first novel at the age of seventy?

A:  Well, I could give you any number or reasons, from flippant to profound, but let’s just say that I finally got around to it. 

Q:  The writing or the publishing? 

A:  The publishing, I think.  A half-done first draft of “Forest Park” sat in a lap-top for years before I decided to finish it.  Before now, for decades, I felt like I had books in me, books that I wanted to write, but I had the powerful notion that dealing with publishers, agents and marketers would damn near kill me. 

Q:  It that why you decided to self-publish?

A:  Who says I decided?  I’m not sure that I had any alternative.
Q:  Did you try to find a publisher?  Or an agent?

A:  No.  I have no facility for self-promotion and I have a very low tolerance for rejection.  And I figured if John Toole couldn’t sell the business on “Confederacy of Dunces,” what chance did I have?  C’mon, let’s move along, this is a dull subject.

Q:  Okay . . . How about writing?  Had you written anything before? 

A:  Yeah, a lot, actually.  Journals, letters, always.  I hated school as a teenager, but I wrote nice term papers, and I enjoyed writing them.  My overall grades were dismal in my teens, but my term papers scored high.  In my early fifties I wrote some short stories, I think a few of them were okay.  I was a lawyer by then, and of course I wrote thousands of words a week doing that, it seemed like thousands anyway.  After the Peace Corps, I wrote up about a hundred thousand words about my experiences in Thailand based on journal entries.   I think some of that was entertaining.  I wrote hundreds of poems in my fifties.  I've had a blog for ten years that I put a lot of energy into. 

Q:  Did you try to get any of the stories or poems published? 

A:  Not really.  I mean, I sent some stuff out, but I got discouraged almost immediately.  I thought that some of the poetry was good, but I’m famously easy to please.  But it don’t mean nothing, as they used to say.  I read and write mostly because I love to read and write.  I’ve always been a reader.   I love to tell stories too, for that matter.  It all goes together.

Q:  When did you become interested in reading?

A:  Very young, if you count comic books!  Kidding aside, we always had a lot of books around the house, and we got two newspapers delivered every day.  We got the New York Daily News every morning at about six o’clock, so I could look at it before school.  That was a great newspaper then, this is the Fifties, I don’t know what it’s like now.  It was tabloid sized, it had lots of pictures, and it had great writers.  Everything was very punchy, intensely to-the-point.  The sports writing was top notch.  A perfect newspaper for a youngster. 

We also got Life and Newsweek every week, and the National Geographic.  The Life and the NatGeo, I went over them pretty good.  The books at home were my father’s, he had very eclectic tastes.  Many were in German; many were about engineering; there were math books and textbooks about foreign languages; the fiction was mostly very serious.  He went to a lot of used book sales.   I “looked at” those books when I was too young to read them.  I read them like you’d read magazines, you know, just open them and read a little.  I did always love the library though.  Plenty of readable books there.  The library in my town was a good one, and for the youngster there was a nice children’s library downstairs.

Q:  How about books?  When did you start to read books? 

A:  Age eleven, I’d say, for long-form fiction and non-fiction, in seventh grade.  Over the next couple of years I read books from the library about pirates or World War II, exciting stuff, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of the Ace paperbacks came out at that time, Rider Haggard, Edgar Poe, books about gangsters, Sherlock Holmes, Fu-Manchu.  I read memoirs by World War II guys, like “Stuka Pilot,” by Hans Rudel, and “Zero Fighter,” by Saburo Sakai.  And more of the books at the house, I had more patience for them than before.  I found a paperback called, “The Beats,” about all of the Beat writers, real Top-of-the-Pops stuff, but I liked it.  I found that book amazing.

Q:  The Beats?  What did you find most interesting about them?
A:  Well, it seemed to suggest that an individual could be himself and still become successful.  That’s pretty exciting. 

Q:  What was the first serious book that you read?

A:  Nice dig, youngblood!  Maybe I should pad my list. 

Q:  No . . . I mean . . .

A:  Forget it.  I’m fucking with you.  It was probably “Junky,” by William Burroughs.  I was thirteen, I think, a freshman in high school, I hated high school with a passion.  I’m sure that I shop-lifted the book, I had mastered that behavior by then.  I had developed a voracious appetite for magazines and paperbacks and the money to pay for them was just not there, so I improvised.  I liked “Junky” a lot, I re-read it about a year afterwards.  I mean, it wasn’t a bolt-from-the-blue moment or anything, but I liked it a lot.  It was a lesson in the layers of the societal onion, worlds within worlds.  I had no idea of that stuff, what half of it meant, but I learned that there was more out there, those people on the bus had more on their minds.  Of course I remembered Bill Burroughs from the book about the Beats. 

Q:  How about school assigned reading? 

A:  I never read what was assigned by school.  It was a matter of principle with me.  I got Cliff Notes or I faked it.  I only read what I wanted to read.  A novel a week, plus the history stuff.  I hated school, but I loved reading.  Oh, I did read “Huckleberry Finn” as a freshman in college.  I liked that.  I’d already read some Mark Twain. 

Q:  Did it occur to you that you might write someday yourself? 

A:  You know, I did have a “Eureka!” moment at that time.  Thirteen, or maybe fourteen.  It was after school, I was in my room pretending to do homework.  Really, I never did homework, I always copied it from other kids the next morning.  Anyway, I’m in my room reading a pornographic novel.  I had a couple of them around, the best part of them was definitely the six or eight nude drawings by Frank Frazetta.  Those’d be big E-Bay items now, I’ll bet.  The writing itself was disappointing, even to my critical faculties, which were primitive.  I remember thinking:  I could do better than this.  The exposition was minimal; the sex scenes were shallow and not very entertaining; there was no coherent narrative, no real story.  I thought, somebody got paid to write this shit?  That was actually very encouraging to me.  I thought that maybe it would be a job that I could do, someday, if I had to.  I was always worried about the whole making a living thing. 

(Reminder, none of this interview has happened yet.  I am just thrilled with the idea that someday, who knows, it might happen, someone will want to interview me.) 

Q:  So now you’re published, or self-published anyway.  Are you making a living at it? 

A:  Shit, no.  This is a love thing.  If a couple of hundred people read the book, I’ll be totally delighted, it’ll all have been worth it.  The interesting thing these days is that self-publishing has become something of a misnomer.  You’re not on your own anymore.  Not only writers have been put out of business by the new paradigm, lots of publishing professionals are out in the street now too.  Editors, the whole lot of them.  Many of them have hung out shingles and are now in business for themselves, trying to make a living with the talents that they developed over the decades in the old, pre-Internet publishing business.  So I have help, I’m happy to pay for it, these guys are good.  So I can get an editor on as grand a scale as I think I need, I can get someone to do the packaging, it looks a lot better than I could do, I can pay for as much marketing as I can afford.  By now it looks like Forest Park will at least break even.  That’s a blessing.  But making a living?  Please, don’t mock me. 

Q:  Sorry, I was just curious.  Back to reading, what have you read more recently?

A:  More recently than high school?  That’s quite a list.  I’ve always been drawn to crap, but I’ve always found quality books rewarding too, as long as they were not too hard to read.  So I’ve always read a mix of “good” books and crap; fiction and non-fiction; newspapers and magazines.  I’ve always been a dedicated library goer, borrowing books and reading them.  I’m all over the place.  I never totally gave up comics, for that matter. 

Q:  What have been some of your favorites?

A:  Very early on, Evelyn Waugh and Dash Hammett.  Ambrose Bierce.  “Clockwork Orange;” “Lord of the Flies.”  I liked Evergreen Magazine in the Sixties, and I had a subscription.  That led me to more Bill Burroughs, and some wilder stuff, like "491," Scandinavian stuff.  Some of the Hard Boiled stuff, Mickey Spillane early on, later George V. Higgins and Charles Williford.  Nathanial West! And a lot of crap in all of these genres, Science Fiction, crime, I rather liked some of the crap too.  I recently discovered Edward St. Aubyn, I find him very good.  Over the years I read "Moby-Dick" three times, finally understanding it, more or less, at the age of sixty.  Favorites?  Of the modern guys I’d say Haruki Murakami and Jonathan Franzen.  I’m thunderstruck by those two. 

Q:  How about a favorite character? 

A:  Tom Ripley, hands down.  How could I leave Patricia Highsmith off of the favorites list?  Those Ripley books, that’s five of my top ten right there.   I only read them in the last ten years or so. 

Q:  What do you feel have been the biggest influences on your work?

A:  “My work  . . .”  That’s a little grand.

Q:  How about, “. . . on your writing so far?” 

A:  Probably newspapers.  Between journals, and letters, and legal writing, maybe I tend to stick with the who, what, when, where and how.  Be direct, don’t hide the ball.  Tell the story.  So newspapers.  Maybe newspapers and movies.  I’m pretty sure that I construct movie-like narratives.  I’ve seen a lot of movies. 

Q:  Regarding style . . .

A:  Let me cut you off right there, I’m not the one to be discussing the style of anything, or the literary this and that.  I leave the close examination of language and literature to people with much better educations that I have. 

Q:  Fair enough.  What about “Forest Park?”  What’s the book about? 

A:  It’s about the first TV generation.  It’s about the effect of the Sixties on certain young people.  It’s about the Vietnam War.  It’s about temptation and the difficulty of redemption.  It’s about the layers of culture, what you can see, what you find if you dig, and what you find if you stay right there and dig some more.  It’s about young people who walk in the world but chose not to engage with it.  It’s about friends, parents and children, it’s about right and wrong in shades of grey.  It’s about growing up, discovering things about yourself.  It’s about, not my favorite word, but it’s about alienation.

Q:  You sound like you had given that question some thought beforehand.

A:  Yeah, my PR guy helped me with that one.

Q:  What are you working on now?

A:  Oh, just more stories about tattooed fuck-ups from Queens.  I’m like Marc Chagall, I’m stuck in a frozen moment.  He and I look at the whole world through the filter of one moment in time.  For Chagall, it was the Stetl, for me it’s a little corner of Queens after midnight.